Vintage fashion photography for beginners: photographing your clothing to sell online
I confess to being a somewhat reluctant photographer. When I was much younger (in the days before digital cameras and camera phones) it always used to baffle and horrify me when people would take hundreds of snaps on holiday, and then insist on showing you every last one of them when you went round to their house. I never remembered to take my camera with me anywhere I was likely to want to use it, and even if I had remembered, it would likely have languished at the bottom of my bag/suitcase!
Back in 2003 when I started selling vintage clothing and accessories on eBay, I realised that I'd have to conquer my camera phobia. For although it's still possible to sell things online if you use poorly focused, badly composed photographs, you stand a much better chance if you can take a half decent picture! So, after nearly eight years of online selling, here are my six tips for using a digital camera to take photographs of vintage clothing/accessories - however, you should find that most of them (apart from tip no. 1) are applicable whatever you're selling.
1. Consider using a live model or a proper shop dummy
I use an ex shop dummy that I bought for £100 on eBay. I call her Annie, because she looks a bit like the singer Annie Lennox! Clothes look much better on a dummy than they do laid out flat on the floor or on your bed - the buyer will have a more accurate idea of how they will appear when they're worn.
A live model (provided they've got the right "look") is even better. However, you may find that the cost of using a paid model will make an unacceptable dent in your profits, unless selling vintage clothing online is your full time business and you have enough stock/turnover to justify it. But if you can find someone suitable (sister? best mate?) who's prepared to model a few outfits for the cost of a drink, then it might turn out very worthwhile!
2. Background: keep it simple
Many people make the mistake of using a really "busy" background when photographing the things they're selling. I've often browsed the online vintage listings on eBay and Etsy, to find that sellers have used a bit of 1970s fabric as the background for their items - you know the sort of thing: purple flowers the size of dinner plates, geometric orange and brown swirls - and the item simply gets drowned out. Much better to use a large piece of plain fabric. I use king-sized bed sheets in mid-green, white or brown, and drape these on a handy bookshelf! Which of these colours I choose depends on the colour of the item - if it's a cream sweater, then it gets a brown background. If it's a black item, it gets either a green or white background.
3. Don't use too much flash
If you're photographing indoors you do need some flash, but I've found that even the lowest flash setting is often too much. So I hit on the following idea: a small, thin piece of white paper placed over your camera flash bulb will allow enough flash to penetrate without making your item look totally washed out. Simple!
4. Use artificial light, and close the curtains
Works better for me than natural light, anyway! I would be interested to hear other people's views on this.
5. Photoshop is your friend
Or indeed any other photo editing software that allows you to rotate, crop and otherwise tweak your photos. No I'm not talking about misleading the buyer here, but you can make immense improvements to what might otherwise be a lacklustre photo, simply by increasing or decreasing the brightness and/or contrast. (It took me several years to discover Photoshop's "contrast" feature - I was glad when I did though!) Sometimes if the colour of something just doesn't come out right, you can also adjust the colour balance.
6. Take as many photos as you can upload for free
At the time of writing, eBay lets you have twelve free photos (at least it does in the clothing section anyway), while Etsy lets you have five. So if you're photographing a sweater then do the front and back, plus a view from the side, a close-up view of the neck or any other salient feature, and a close-up of the label, if there is one. Why the label? Because often that's the sign that what you're selling is a genuine vintage item, rather than some "vintage-inspired" thing that New Look or Primark was selling last week. If your item has any faults it's also worth providing photos of those too, rather than expecting the buyer to take the listing description on trust.
© Empress Felicity February 2011
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